Can You Avoid an ADA Website-Accessibility Lawsuit?
Lawsuits alleging that plaintiffs with a disability could not use company websites because they were not coded to work with assistive technologies, such as screen readers, spiked during the past year, according to research from employment law firm, Seyfarth Shaw.
According to the firm’s analysis, federal website-accessibility lawsuits brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act nearly tripled in 2018. At least 2,258 such suits were filed last year—up from 814 filed in 2017. The report notes that plaintiffs filed these federal ADA Title III lawsuits in 14 states—with New York and Florida the busiest jurisdictions (1,564 and 576 lawsuits filed, respectively).
Report co-author Kristina Launey, a partner in Seyfarth’s Sacramento, Calif., office and a member of the firm’s ADA Title III specialty team, says that “sadly, there seems to be no way to avoid an ADA website-accessibility lawsuit,” but adds that are some strong risk-mitigation measures organizations and their employees can take. Launey advises organizations to:
- Ensure your website is designed, built and maintained so it is accessible, following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 Level AA, including all third -party content;
- Train all employees responsible for creating or modifying the website in any way, so they can do so according to the WCAG 2.1 AA criteria; and
- Adopt an accessibility policy, procedure, and post an accessibility statement on your website with contact information and trained customer-service personnel who can assist customers who have accessibility concerns regarding the website.
Terri Rhodes, chief executive officer at the Disability Management Employer Coalition, says that the best approach in avoiding website access and other ADA-based lawsuits requires organizations be aware of the three Cs: consistent policies, communication and compliance.
Along those lines, Rhodes notes that DMEC is offering its members a free webinar (non-members can access it for a fee) about avoiding ADA lawsuits generally on March 7. Rhodes explains that the EEOC also provides guidance on an “interactive process” to determine a reasonable accommodation under the law.
“Properly engaging in that process is critical to achieving the law’s goals and reducing potential risk,” she says.